Guillotine move cuts up Labour rebels and Tories

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THE GOVERNMENT risked upsetting both Labour rebels and Tories last night when it said it would guillotine debate on its controversial Asylum and Immigration Bill this week.

Margaret Beckett, Leader of the House, revealed in a late-night Commons statement that she was cutting short debate on the asylum Bill and the Bill on GP reforms.

She said she had been forced into the move after Tory "time- wasting" yesterday on the detailed report stage of the Health Bill. Under the Government's guillotine motion, the Bill is now set to clear the House tonight, while discussion of the report stage of the Asylum and Immigration Bill will also be limited today.

Despite attempts by Jack Straw, Home Secretary, to head off backbench opposition to the asylum Bill, the Government is still facing a rebellion over its proposals to reform benefits for refugees.

Mrs Beckett said she had been forced into the move by Tory delays to the passage of the Health Bill. "If we were to continue at this pace it would take us until the end of the week to conclude the Health Bill alone and that doesn't seem to us to be reasonable," she said.

Mrs Beckett said MPs had spent three hours debating a relatively minor, technical and non-controversial proposed change to the legislation.

"My responsibility is to see that this House has the opportunity, sensibly and properly to debate the issues that come before it. It is not my responsibility to find time for time-wasting."

However, Sir George Young, shadow Commons leader, questioned whether the Asylum and Immigration Bill was being guillotined "to curb criticism by the Government's own supporters on their own benches".

Referring to the Tories' success in last week's European Parliament elections, he demanded: "Is this not further evidence of a government that over the weekend has lost votes and a government that is now losing its nerve?"

Paul Tyler, for the Liberal Democrats, said the Government's proposed guillotine was "a sledgehammer to achieve nothing".

One Labour rebel later said the Government was using the delays to curb debate and avert a potentially embarrassing rebellion over the asylum Bill. "It's incredibly cynical," she said. The Health Bill scraps GP fundholding, introduced by the Tory government, and replaces it with Primary Care Trusts.

Tory backbenchers, buoyed by the Euro-election results, made a series of lengthy speeches on detailed aspects of the legislation.

David Amess, Tory MP for Southend West, spoke for more than an hour, prompting Labour's Malcolm Chisholm, MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, to accuse him of "time-wasting self-indulgence".